For the third consecutive Sunday, Arthur and Ben meet around their coffee mugs in the basement of the Buddhist temple. Arthur blows across the surface of his coffee, unwilling to drink it hot. Ben ignores his coffee other than to grip the mug like a prop in a play.
“It was hard at first,” Ben says. “Last week I had to get two hundred yards out on the lake before I was able to see Chicago as unchanging; and you told me that this week I had to be right on the street and still accomplish the same thing.”
“I remember,” Arthur said.
“I decided to start by standing on Randolph and State at four in the afternoon. That’s where I catch the Red Line home, and I’m pretty familiar with that spot which I thought might be an advantage, but instead of being able see that corner as unchanging, all I saw were changes. I noticed right away that there were new displays in the Macy’s windows, and that there was a new play at the Chicago Theatre, and I even noticed how the homeless people weren’t in the same spots from Monday thru Wednesday.”
“You’re very attentive. That can be good.”
“But that’s not what I was there for, and it just got worse because on Monday I noticed that I was surrounded by tourists in shorts who were staying past the weekend, then on Tuesday they were outnumbered by teenagers killing time before a concert in Grant Park, and on Wednesday there was a techie conference at McCormack Place so the corner was jammed with people who never looked up from their phones; and I even started noticing how different group had different phones and different sayings on their t-shirts and different ways of asking for directions.”
“Did you stay on that corner all week?”
“No, thank god. On Thursday I went north of the river and that made all the difference because when I was standing on Ohio and Rush, I was on a corner I’m not familiar with; and everything seemed the same three straight days. If there were differences in what people wore or who was there or what phones they used, I didn’t see them; and that’s when I realized that distance isn’t the only thing that cancels out change–strangeness does too. Do you see what I mean? If you’re in a strange place–even if it’s just a different street corner, you don’t know enough to notice when things are different.”
“Do you think,” Arthur asked, “it’s possible to be close and familiar and still see the life around you as unchanging?”
Ben didn’t answer immediately; instead, he looked down at the coffee mug in his hand, as if he were wondering who put it there; then he said, “That’s my next week topic, isn’t it?”
“I believe it is,” Arthur said, smiling.